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Going by Airplane: Part One

Travel Tips

From "Trouble Free Travel with Children" by Vicki Lansky

Chapter Seven
GOING BY AIRPLANE©
Part One: BEFORE YOU GO

If you don't travel by car, your destination, your budget, and your personal inclinations will help you choose among three alternatives: the airplane, the train, and the bus. Flying is the fastest, a real blessing for long-distance travel with babies or toddlers. Despite lack of space for babies and baggage, and possible (or should we say, probable) delays and discomfort from changes in cabin pressure, it's the easiest way to go.

Train travel offers the advantages of the passing scenery and a bit more freedom of movement, but it has its disadvantages, too. Riding the bus is probably your last choice but it costs the least, and it will get you to corners of the country where planes and trains simply don't go.

FLYING

The noise of a plane, even more than that of a car, helps lull a newborn infant to sleep. The more awake and aware toddler requires full-time entertainment from the parent. Obviously, the shorter the trip, the easier the job.

If you have a choice, make the time zones work with you rather than against you. North-south travel will always be less disruptive than east-west travel. But any trip causing more than a two-hour time adjustment will take just that-adjustment.

Take heart if all does not go smoothly. If your child travels regularly by air from infancy, by the time he or she is 3 or 4 years old the child will be a seasoned traveler who will be delighted with toilets that flush blue water and with overhead lights he or she can control.

MAKING RESERVATIONS

If you are pregnant, inquire about airline policies. Some airlines have restrictions affecting passengers during the late stages of pregnancy.

Children 2 and under fly free in the United States and for 10 percent of adult fare on international flights. The child will not be assigned a seat. You can hope for an empty one to use (a good reason to travel at less-favored hours). Otherwise, your child will sit on your lap during the flight as well as for takeoffs and landings. If you do reserve a seat for a child under two you will pay between 25% and 50% of the regular adult coach fare. If you're flying alone internationally with two children under 2 years of age, you will have to pay half fare for one of the children, but you will also have a reserved seat for one child.

Some domestic carriers offer reduced fares for children over 2, but ages and offers vary. Airline deregulation has led to a reduction in family fares in general, so it is best to consult a travel agent who can arrange, by computer, the most economical flight for your family.

"My daughter was 4 but petite. Since air travel was so expensive, I decided to try to get her on as 2 by holding her and covering her with a blanket. Certainly it was worth a try. I was standing in line in front of the travel agent confirming my seat reservation when the person behind me, apparently taken by my daughter, asked her how old she was. In a loud voice she replied, 'I'm 4, but my mother said to say I'm 2.'" - Hallie Lerman, Los Angeles, CA

Inquire whether a meal will be served. Some airlines offer special children's meals; request them when making reservations, or at least twenty-four hours before takeoff. If they don't have them, order a fruit plate which is always enjoyable. Keep in mind that all airline food is prepared by flight kitchens on the ground ahead of time. If you have a fussy eater, bring your own meal or snack.

Although many airlines and travel agents will make reserved seating arrangements by phone, some will not, unless you're traveling first class on a business flight, or, sometimes, if you've reserved a bassinet. However, this system is changing rapidly, and it is best to confirm details with the airline directly.

* Reserve a bassinet ahead of time if you need one. They're usually free, but the supply may be limited. Be aware that most are only 27 inches long and 12-1/2 inches wide, so if your baby is bigger than that or weighs more than 30 pounds, you won't be able to use one. Sometimes bassinets go on the floor, and sometimes they attach to the bulkhead seat. Find out which is the case for your flight. If the bassinet attaches to the bulkhead seat, you may wish to reserve one simply to get that often-favored seat. Keep in mind that the bassinet will not assure safety in turbulence.

* Select flight times that don't coincide with feeding times, say some travelers, although you'll be nursing or bottle-feeding an infant during takeoff and landing to reduce ear discomfort from changes in air pressure. Others say it's more important to avoid flight times that coincide with naptime.

* Try to avoid peak travel hours in the morning or early evening, when the plane is likely to be full. Putting up with the inconvenience of even a late-night flight may mean that there will be an extra seat for your child, as well as the possibility of more help from airline attendants.

* Ask for a flight that originates in your city (if possible) to ensure better seat selection. They usually depart on schedule.

* Choose a nonstop flight when you can, so you won't have to deal with extra landings and takeoffs that cause air pressure changes, the hassles of changing planes and waiting in airline terminals. (Alternatively, choose flights that offer extra time between flights rather than cutting it close. That extra airport stopover time gives a mobile child the chance to run and stretch, which fortunately is acceptable airport behavior.)

"We waited for our plane at a short stopover, trying to keep tabs on two active children, when I suddenly heard the ear-shattering blast of the airport alarm siren. I dived under the nearest chair, fearing we'd be blown up any minute. I looked frantically for my husband and children. Finally I saw my son standing behind a NO ADMITTANCE sign with his hand on a switch and a 'now what do I do?' expression on his face. I walked quickly to the ladies' room and remained there until our plane was called, letting Dad handle the situation." - Gail Dodge, Wilmington, NC

CHOOSING THE BEST SEATS

* Request the window and aisle seats in a three-seat row if you're traveling with one child (under 2) and another adult, and hope that the middle seat won't be taken. If it is, the occupant will probably be happy to exchange seats so that your family can sit together...with your child now on your lap.

* Consider asking for the window seat if you are alone and traveling with an infant. A window seat also offers the most privacy for breast-feeding. Choose the aisle seat if you are alone with a mobile toddler so you won't constantly have to climb over passengers for a trip to the bathroom or some aisle sightseeing.

* Watch for (or ask an attendant about) rows of empty seats into which your family can move later.

* Ask for seats on the same side of the aisle if you're traveling with two adults and more than one child. Tending children who are in front of or behind you will be easier than reaching across the aisle, which will be impossible while attendants serve food or drinks. Flight rules require one adult per child in a row, in case it's necessary to handle oxygen masks.

* Choose seats away from busy areas such as the galley if you are hoping your child will take a nap.

* Be sure the bulkhead seats you get on a jumbo jet are on the center aisle, not by the doors. Small children are not allowed to occupy seats next to these emergency doors, so you'll be required to move if you were inadvertently assigned these seats. (But also be aware that some airlines have a limited number of oxygen masks available in the bulkhead area and might not be able to seat families there.)

PROS AND CONS OF BULKHEAD SEATS

Many parents feel that seats in the bulkhead are best for traveling with small children. These seats face the walls that separate the different sections of the cabin. They allow room for you to stretch your legs, arrange the children's paraphernalia, or change a non-messy diaper on the floor. A child can't annoy a passenger in front of you, only behind you!

One disadvantage is that the position of meal trays in the bulkhead may make it difficult for you to tend a child as you eat. There is no storage room under the seat in front of you so the attendant will move your carry-on baggage out of your reach during takeoff and landing. Also, the armrests between these seats do not lift up.

If you're traveling on a jumbo jet, the bulkhead seats in the center aisle will be near the lavatories, which means that there may be a line of waiting passengers hovering about you in the aisles. On the bright side, these people may help entertain your child.

Other parents prefer seats near the rear of the plane. You'll be close to the flight attendants, whose assistance you may need and whose activities may amuse the children.

* Ask for seats at least several rows in front of the smoking section if you are not picking the bulkhead seats.

* Seats in the back on an uncrowded flight can become your playground if you stay out of the attendants' way.

USING YOUR CAR SEAT ON THE AIRPLANE

Car seats approved by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) manufactured after January 1, 1981, except for those which are a vest and harness-type restraint, can now be used during takeoff and landing. If you have not paid for a seat for your child under the age of 2, you can use the car seat only if an extra cabin seat is available. If you have brought the car seat on board and there is no extra seat, the flight attendant may stow it for you or, more likely, check it as baggage.

Although it's not mandatory, the FAA recommends using the approved car seat in a window seat for the convenience of the other passengers. It can't be used in the emergency exit access rows or in the rows just in front of or in back of them. The car seat must be properly secured to the passenger seat at all times during the flight, even when your child is not sitting in it.

When on board, the FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard) label in red lettering should be attached to the car seat, indicating make and model number. If the FMVSS sticker is not on it, it may be refused at the gate. It is still wise to check the airline's policies to be sure they will accept a seat with an FMVSS label and whether they will require purchase of a ticket for the car seat's use.

Congress is considering legislation that would require children under 2 to be strapped into a car safety seat, meaning your child would no longer be able to fly free-of-charge.

You can write for a booklet called "Child/Infant Safety Seats Acceptable for Use in Aircraft" from Community and Consumer Liaison Division, APA - 200, Federal Aviation Administration, Washington, DC 20591.

FLIGHT PREPARATIONS

* Consider reading "Going on an Airplane" by Fred (Mr.) Rogers (Putnam). With plenty of photos, this book is a good introduction to plane travel. Especially helpful for first-time fliers.

* Arrive at the airport at least fifteen minutes earlier than if you were traveling alone. You'll need the extra time when you have children along.

* Confirm your seat reservations, if you made them ahead of time, as soon as you arrive. Don't assume the computer is flawless!

* Explain to your toddler that all items, even favorite teddies, must be given up for the moment to pass through the security check, but that they will be returned in just a minute.

* A useful item for carrying a small baby onto a plane is a reclining infant seat with an adjustable stand and handles.

* If you're taking a stroller, make it an umbrella stroller. Many even fit down the aisles of the plane. Some parents find a front or backpack easier to take on board.

* Attach a luggage tag or I.D. bracelet to your toddler. Include name, destination, etc. Remember to list allergies or medical needs on the tag. At the very least, write your child's name and the address and phone number of your destination on a piece of paper and pin it to his or her clothing if you will be in any place where there is a chance for wandering. (Some people feel it is safer to list business addresses on luggage.) Or consider attaching or pocketing a whistle on a child who would know how to use it appropriately!

* In your carry-on luggage, include everything you'll need in case your other luggage is lost. Consider putting the contents of your purse into a heavy-duty resealable plastic bag that fits into the flight bag, eliminating one more item to carry.

* Pack your flight/baby bag with one whole day's worth of supplies and clothing for the children and then some. (There is nothing worse than being stranded in soiled clothes, or without enough diapers or formula.)

* Sweatsuits are excellent travel gear for toddlers as well as older children. Every age child should wear socks with their shoes as the floor of a plane is often quite cold.

* Consider taking along a coverall or apron to protect you. That way you don't have to worry about a change of clothes for yourself. (Packing more than one bib for baby is also a good idea.)

Call 800-255-3379 to order "Trouble Free Travel with Children" (by Vicki Lansky) by credit card, or send a check to Practical Parenting, 18326 Minnetonka Boulevard, Deephaven, Minnesota 55391. Call for a free catalog of books by Vicki Lansky.

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